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Virginia early voting, GOP conventions: What you need to know

Cars line up along Balls Hill Road waiting to enter the McClean Government Center during early voting in October in Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Early voting is underway in Virginia ahead of the June 21 primaries in congressional races, while Republicans in several districts get ready to select their nominees later this month.

Considering that redistricting shuffled voters around in a newly drawn congressional map this year — and that the parties are using different mechanisms to select their nominees — it isn’t the simplest election season for voters. But in a midterm election year where Virginia Republicans are trying to flip several districts — contests that could have national implications as the GOP seeks to take control of Congress — the stakes are high in this year’s primaries.

Virginia’s 45-day early voting period is still relatively new. 2020 was the first year the state offered no-excuse absentee voting, but this is the first election cycle that the 45-day early voting period extends to the congressional primaries — if your district has one.

Below is a guide to early voting in Virginia. Voters can also plug in their address into the state’s interactive congressional map to check which congressional district they will be voting in this year and for the next decade, and find their polling place on the state’s election website. Voters can vote absentee in person, by mail or drop their mail-in ballot off at a drop-box location. The last day to request an absentee ballot is June 10.

“2022 is a year full of changes that people are going to be experiencing. We have a new early voting system in place, we have new congressional districts, and depending on where you are in Virginia, the Republican primary may be a Republican convention instead,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington. “It’s a very complicated system for voters, and without an awful lot of effort, turnout is likely to be pretty low as a result of all these changes.”

A spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Elections said it could not provide projections about early voting turnout statewide. The department has been “working with general registrar offices statewide to ensure that voters are aware of any changes that may affect their voting location,” the spokeswoman, Andrea Gaines, said.

On the Democratic side, there is just one primary — in the state’s 8th Congressional District anchored in Arlington and Alexandria, where newcomer Victoria Virasingh is challenging four-term Rep. Don Beyer. The rest of the Democratic incumbents are not facing challengers, or in Republican districts, such as the 5th, where there is only one Democratic candidate who is automatically the nominee.

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Republicans, by contrast, are selecting their nominees by several methods.

Republicans in the two most competitive districts — the 7th and 2nd, where national Republicans are likely to spend millions trying to defeat Democratic Reps. Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria — will be selecting their nominee with a regular state-run primary. Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.) also faces a GOP primary challenge in the 6th District, though the race is not expected to be competitive. Early voting is now open in those districts until June 18, with primary Election Day on June 21.

Republicans in the 5th and 8th districts will converge for conventions on May 21, where hundreds of preregistered convention delegates will select their party’s nominee. Rep. Bob Good faces a challenge from Dan Moy, the chairman of the Charlottesville GOP Convention, in the 5th District.

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Also on May 21, Republicans in the 10th will hold a party-run firehouse primary at locations across the district, employing ranked-choice voting.

Geary Higgins, chairman of the 10th Congressional District GOP Committee, said any Republican can show up to vote at the party’s selected primary locations, provided that the voters pledge to support the Republican nominee in November in the race against Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.). There is one day of in-person absentee voting taking place Thursday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Middleburg Barn — though unlike in the state-run primaries, a valid excuse is required to vote absentee, a full list of which can be found here.

Eleven Republicans are vying for the nomination — which, Higgins acknowledged, could make ranked-choice voting a bit more complicated for voters. But he said the logic behind selecting this method was to maximize Republican participation while ensuring the winner of the primary would have a majority of the vote.

“We wanted to be as inclusive as possible,” Higgins said. “Any time you have a convention there are always people who find out about it late and are mad or frustrated that they can’t participate, so we didn’t want to have that. The other issue we were trying to deal with in the firehouse primary is that we wanted to be able to have a candidate that has 51 percent support of the overall voters. So with the ranked-choice voting, that allows us to get there.”

Ranked-choice voting asks voters to rank the candidates in the order of who they would support — if possible, Higgins said, they’re asking voters to rank all 11 candidates. The candidate who receives a majority of the “first-choice” votes wins the primary. If the candidate with the most “first-choice” votes does not have a clear majority, then another round of counting ensues. This time the least popular candidate is eliminated and the “second-choice” votes are added to the candidates’ vote tally. That counting process continues until a candidate has a majority of support.

The same method was used in the GOP gubernatorial nomination process last year.

“The ranked-choice voting system is complicated, absolutely, and the voters particularly in Virginia don’t have much experience with it,” Farnsworth said, “but it does give you potentially a more acceptable outcome — the most competitive candidate in November.”

In the more competitive districts — the 2nd, the 7th and to some extent the 10th — Farnsworth said that “the ability of Republicans to win in those races will depend in large measure on the nominee,” raising the stakes in these crowded contests.

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In the 7th, six Republicans are battling for the nomination and many have experience in public office, lending them a built-in constituency that Farnsworth said may help with turnout, including state Sen. Bryce Reeves (Spotsylvania), Prince William Board Supervisor Yesli Vega and Stafford County Board Chair Crystal Vanuch. In the Virginia Beach-anchored 2nd, state Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) is widely considered the front-runner in the four-way race.

In the 10th, Prince William Board Supervisor Jeanine Lawson (R) is among the top contenders, with spirited challenges from several first-time candidates including Navy veteran and Vietnamese refugee Hung Cao; Brandon Michon, a Loudoun County parent whose impassioned speeches to the school board opposing school closures made him popular among parents who shared his views; and Caleb Max, the 24-year-old grandson of former 10th District congressman Frank Wolf.

Higgins said he and others in the district were doing “everything we can” to get information to voters about the nomination process and inform them about changes from redistricting.

“One of the good thing about having 11 candidates is they’re all reaching out to the voters,” he said.

Republicans in Virginia’s Fairfax County-anchored 11th District selected their nominee, Jim Myles, through a firehouse primary last week, but Republicans are not typically competitive in the blue Northern Virginia district held by Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D).